Christian film industry

The Christian film industry is an umbrella term for films containing a Christian themed message or moral, produced by Christian filmmakers to a Christian audience, or even some films that are just marketed to Christians. They are often interdenominational films, but can also be films targeting a specific denomination of Christianity.

Popular mainstream studio productions of films with strong Christian messages or Biblical stories, like Ben-Hur, The Ten Commandments, The Passion of the Christ, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Book of Eli,[1] and Machine Gun Preacher are not specifically part of the Christian film industry, being more agnostic about their audiences' religious beliefs.

Many films from the Christian film industry are produced by openly confessing Christians in independent companies mainly targeting a Christian audience. This has been on the rise since the success of Sherwood Pictures' Fireproof, the highest grossing independent film of 2008.[2] The success of Fireproof may have been due in part to a door opened by the box office success of The Passion of the Christ.



Magic lantern at the Wymondham Museum.

Before the invention of the movie projector, European audiences gathered in darkened rooms to watch magic lantern presentations. Catholic priest Athanasius Kircher promoted the magic lantern by publishing the book Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae in 1680.[3] Controversy soon followed as priests and masons used the lanterns "to persuade followers of their ability to control both the forces of darkness and enlightenment" and temperance groups used the lanterns to fight alcoholism.[4] In the 1800s, missionaries such as David Livingston used the lanterns to present the Gospel in Africa.[5] After movie theaters emerged, magic lanterns lost their popularity and disappeared from the public.

Throughout the late 19th and into the 20th century, there was much dispute among Christians as to "Christian film". Many thought motion picture was creating a graven image, and shunned having anything to do with the film industry. Through the years, however, many Christians began to utilize motion picture for their own purposes.[6] Herbert Booth, as part of the Salvation Army, claimed to be the first user of film for the cause of Christianity, in 1899.[6]

Surprisingly, the Protestant Church encouraged film from the early 20th century, with Congregational minister, the Reverend Herbert Jump writing his influential pamphlet, The Religious Possibilities of the Motion Pictures, in 1910.

By the 1940s a renaissance of Christian filmmaking occurred as recorded by Andrew Quicke and Terry Lindvall in Celluloid Sermons: The Emergence of the Christian Film Industry, 1930-1986 (New York University Press, 2011), the sequel to Sanctuary Cinema.

20th century

In the 1940s, Christian film libraries emerged. Christian businessmen interested in renting audio visual materials started libraries to rent films to churches.[7] Harvey W. Marks started the Visual Aid Center in 1945. Circa 1968, Harry Bristow launched Christian Cinema in a small theater in the Germantown area of Philadelphia, and in the early '70s, the ministry moved to a theater in Ambler, Pennsylvania. Christian Cinema operated a movie theater that showed only Christian films, but closed down in the mid 1990s. The growth of Christian film libraries led to the Christian Film Distributors Association (CFDA) being formed in 1974. The CFDA began holding a conference each year for Christian filmmakers and distributors. The Christian Film and Video Association (formerly the Christian Film Distribution Association) gave out Crown Awards for films that "gloried Jesus Christ."[8]

In 1949 Ken Anderson, editor for a Youth for Christ magazine, decided to form a small Christian film studio. An old shut-down dancehall was purchased and moved onto some donated land to become the first home for Gospel Films, which grew into the largest Christian film distributor. Seeing the potential of Christian films, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association created World Wide Pictures as a subsidiary in 1951 to produce and distribute Christian films. Throughout the '50s and '60s Christian films were produced with increasing professionalism and ads for Christian films often appeared in magazines such as Christianity Today. A year earlier, the Protestant Film Commission began a series of non-theatrical feature films intended for rental to churches and other, related organizations. Chapel Films, servicing Catholic interests with feature and short subjects, already dated back to the 1930s.

Movie theaters and film festivals

Since The Great Commandment opened in movie theaters in 1941, many Christian filmmakers have attempted to pursue theatrical releases. World Wide Pictures was a pioneer in partnering with churches to bring Christian films to the cinema. Gateway Films (now Gateway Films/Vision Video) was "formed with the express purpose of communicating the Christian Gospel in the secular motion picture theaters" and released The Cross and the Switchblade in 1972. In 1979, the Jesus film appeared in theaters across the United States. This film, based on the Gospel of Luke, was made for $6 million by Campus Crusade for Christ.[9] Many Christian films have been released to theaters since that time, such as The Omega Code (1999), Megiddo: The Omega Code 2 (2001), Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie (2002), The Passion of the Christ (2004), Facing the Giants (2006), The Ultimate Gift (2007), Amazing Grace (2007), Fireproof (2008), The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry (2009), To Save a Life (2010), Preacher's Kid (2010), Letters to God (2010), What If... (2010), The Grace Card (2011), Soul Surfer (2011), Courageous (2011), October Baby (2012), Home Run (2013), Grace Unplugged (2013), I'm in Love with a Church Girl (2013), Son of God (2014), God's Not Dead (2014), Persecuted (2014), Old Fashioned (2015), Do You Believe? (2015), War Room (2015), Beyond the Mask (2015), and Risen (2016).

In 1993, Tom Saab launched the Merrimack Valley Christian Film Festival in Salem, New Hampshire. Each year this festival is held during Easter week and draws an audience of thousands to a theater to watch Christian films for free. Saab's organization Christian Film Festivals of America has also presented film festivals in Salinas, California and Orlando, Florida. In October 1999, the Voice of Pentecost Church in San Francisco hosted the 1st Annual WYSIWYG Film Festival. Other Christian film festivals include San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival, 168 Hour Film Project, and the Redemptive Film Festival.

Recent years is a website that lists movies related to Christianity.
Christian Film Database is an online database of "Christian" films.

In 2006, nearly 50 Christian-faith films were produced. The films grossed an average $39 million. All five of the major Hollywood studios have created marketing departments to target the growing demand for faith-based and family fare. Movieguide publisher Ted Baehr said, "There is competition for the Christian audience now that there hasn't been before. I thought at some point it would level off, but so far it's getting bigger and bigger. It's more than I could have possibly imagined. One of the audiences that has become stable and even grown for books, music and movies is the Christian audience."[10]

The proliferation of Christian movies and Christian films has led to the establishment of many online retailers that focus their business exclusively on the sale and distribution of Christian movies online and family-friendly films such as,, and Parables TV also provides streaming and linear TV. In 2013, opened the first ever DVD store devoted completely to Christian DVDs in Tulsa, Oklahoma.[11]

Christian film in Africa

South Africa

Faith-based, family-values films are popular in South Africa due to its predominantly Christian audience. Faith Like Potatoes, Regardt van den Bergh's feature film biopic of Angus Buchan, a farmer turned preacher, bolted the genre when it was released in South Africa in 2006. When Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released the film in April in the U.S., it sold more than 230,000 DVDs in the first three months, making it one of the top-selling DVDs in the Christian market.


Nigerian Christians are actively contributing to the booming Nigerian film industry known as Nollywood. Christian films makes up about 20% of Nigerian films. Independent companies, ministries, and large churches producing hundreds of Christian films often see themselves as an alternative to Nollywood. Nevertheless, they have participated in mainstream success and many of the films appear on state television channels.[12]

The Redeemed Christian Church of God founded Dove Studios, which has become the country’s biggest movie studio and distributor.[13] More than 50,000 copies of their movies were sold before April 2006.[14] The Gospel Film Festival (GOFESTIVAL) is also a major Nigeria film attraction.[15]

See also


  1. Chen, Sandie Angulo (January 15, 2010). "Will Christian Audiences Embrace Denzel's 'Book of Eli'?". Moviefone. Retrieved January 15, 2010.
  2. Buss, Dale (January 21, 2009). "What Christians Watch". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved April 6, 2009.
  3. Vermeir, Koen. "The magic of the magic lantern (1660–1700)". Catholic University of Leuven.
  4. Herlihy, Patricia (December 12, 2002). The Alcoholic Empire: Vodka & Politics in Late Imperial Russia. Oxford University Press. p. 20. ISBN 0-19-516095-9.
  5. Horne, Silvester C. (May 5, 2006). David Livingstone. Kessinger Publishing. p. 76. ISBN 1-4254-9628-8.
  6. 1 2 Lindvall, Terry (February 12, 200 7). Sanctuary Cinema: Origins of the Christian Film Industry. New York University Press. pp. 56–57. ISBN 0-8147-5210-1. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  8. Kintz, Linda; Julia Lesage (April 1998). Media, Culture, and the Religious Right. University of Minnesota Press. p. 194. ISBN 0-8166-3085-2.
  9. Foer, Franklin (February 8, 2004). "Baptism by Celluloid". The New York Times. Retrieved November 21, 2009.
  10. "Hollywood makes room for holiness". The New York Times. The Dallas Morning News. March 8, 2007. Retrieved November 13, 2009.
  11. "Tulsa physician with roots in Turkey sells Christian movies". Tulsa World. Tulsa World. November 23, 2013. Retrieved November 13, 2009.
  12. Zylstra, Sarah Eekhoff (October 27, 2009). "Nigeria: Christian Movie Capital of the World". Christianity Today. Retrieved October 30, 2009.
  13. "Nigerian church transforms into movie mogul". CBC News. March 26, 2006. Retrieved October 30, 2009.
  14. Murphy, Brian (March 25, 2006). "Redeemed Church Takes Nollywood by Storm". Associated Press. WorldWide Religious News. Retrieved October 30, 2009.
  15. Stephen, Alayande (April 21, 2009). "A Celebration of Gospel Cinematic Excellence". The News. Retrieved October 30, 2009.

Further reading

External links

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